Bears Camping Out 2016: WRs need to prove durability as well as abilities

Bears Camping Out 2016: WRs need to prove durability as well as abilities

The accomplishments of the offense under then-coordinator Adam Gase and quarterback Jay Cutler become all the more impressive when placed in the context of available resources.

At no time, from the beginning of training camp on, did the offense have its projected top three receivers available, and barely did the offense have even two of the three simultaneously.  Wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal, who played in a combined 63 of 64 total games the preceding two seasons, missed 14 combined entire games in 2015 and portions of several others because of myriad injuries.

And Kevin White, the No. 7 pick of the draft and slated to start opposite Jeffery, was lost to a stress fracture until late in the season when the decision was made, with the Bears sitting at 5-8 after demoralizing losses to San Francisco and Washington, to hold him out for the entire season.

Jeffery was a virtual non-participant in training camp and preseason because of a calf strain, foreshadowing a succession of lower-body injuries that made a long-term contract impractical at his price and use of the franchise tag a logical compromise. Jeffery’s anticipated playing this season for the guaranteed $14.6 million tag amount became official on Friday afternoon when the deadline for a deal passed.

Jeffery finished with 54 receptions, good enough to lead the Bears. But his 807 yards, a decline from his 1,421 of 2013 and 1,133 of 2014, was still more than any two other Bears combined. Royal was signed to be principally the No. 3, but with White unavailable, was pressed into starting all nine of the games he played and finished with 37 catches but only one for a touchdown.

The Bears got production from Marquess Wilson (28 catches), Marc Mariani (22), Josh Bellamy (19) and Cameron Meredith (11), all combining for 14 starts. But the group netted just three total touchdowns. Mariani emerged as a viable third-receiver option, with first downs recorded on 19 of his 22 catches and 11-for-11 on third-down targets.

Offseason adjustments

The exit of Gase to Miami, replaced by promoting Dowell Loggains from QB coach to coordinator, will stand as one of the single biggest adjustments within the entire on-field operations. The Bears also allowed receivers coach Mike Groh to leave for a post as passing-game coordinator and receivers coach with the Los Angeles Rams. In his place the organization hired Tulane receivers coach Curtis Johnson, who worked as a member of the New Orleans Saints staff during the Super Bowl season of 2009 and while Bears GM Ryan Pace was in personnel there.

White began making a major impression in closed practices once he was cleared for work late in the season. His developing a relationship with Cutler has been an emphasis this offseason. The two watched the Super Bowl together and traveled to Tennessee for some work together. “That’s been going good,” White said. “He’s a great leader. A great guy. So we’re trying to get on the same page.”

To the Bears dissatisfaction, Jeffery opted out of working with the team in Chicago other than for mandatory sessions, instead working out in south Florida on his own program. “I was just working on some soft tissues issues,” Jeffery said. “I was working out with my trainer and some other people I was seeing down there.”

The Bears used a seventh-round draft pick on Daniel Braverman out of Western Michigan, where he caught 108 passes for 1,367 yards and 13 touchdowns. Undrafted free agent Kieren Duncan secured a spot at least on the roster going into training camp.

Wilson was lost for an undetermined amount of time, expected to include the first six weeks of the regular season, when he fractured his foot during a minicamp practice.

But the focus is less on the depth chart than what the top of the chart – Jeffery and White – generates in their first time working together.

“They’re still learning,” Cutler said. “Al has got a little catching up to do with some of the stuff that we’re putting in, and then Kevin, taking a year off, it’s hard for anybody to not play football for a year. He played at West Virginia where our offense is a little bit different. So he’s kind of got a year and a half of just straight catching up with what he has to do in a short amount of time.”


WR  Alshon Jeffery

WR  Kevin White

WR  Eddie Royal

The Mix

Josh Bellamy

Daniel Braverman

Kieren Duncan

Derek Keaton

Marc Mariani

Cameron Meredith

Darrin Peterson

Deonte Thompson

3 questions camp will begin to answer…

…What exactly does $14.6 million buy the Bears?

Jeffery’s mindset and dedication have been subjects of conjecture, particularly after he missed seven games last season in what was a contract year. The franchise tag makes him one of the highest-paid receivers for 2016, but he was not an integral part of the offseason program and is a health concern until he isn’t.

And there is the matter of a new offensive coordinator, new receivers coach and a new wideout on the opposite side. “I mean, there were a few tweaks here and there,” Jeffery said, “but pretty much most of the stuff is still the same.”

…How far behind will Kevin White be after missing his entire rookie season beyond a handful of practices?

White’s attitude and work ethic are exemplary, but he had a handful of drops in offseason sessions, and does not have the NFL-experience base that his teammates have as the offense undergoes a change of coordinator. His to-learn list is extensive:

“Learning different types of coverages,” White began. “What the corners and safeties jobs are to stop a certain kind of concept we may run. Learning different types of techniques as far as press release, versus off and zone. That sort of stuff.”

…Is there quality and durability after Jeffery and White?

Not that either of those two have established records of durability, but Royal turns 30 and is coming off missing games at three different points last season. Wilson already is down until further notice. The Bears need to get through camp healthy and with starter-grade quality evident in more than their top two receivers.

Under Center Podcast: Bears trounced by Saints, and questions abound

USA Today Sports

Under Center Podcast: Bears trounced by Saints, and questions abound

Laurence Holmes is joined by Olin Kreutz, Matt Forte, Lance Briggs, and Alex Brown to break down the Bears' highly dispiriting 36-25 loss to the Saints at Soldier Field. The guys discuss why the loss was so disappointing and frustrating (2:00), the lack of progress for many players since last year (5:00), the possibility of somebody other than Nagy calling plays (10:00), whether the Bears can save their season and still make the playoffs (14:00), and the massive problems in the run game this season (22:00).

Listen here or via the embedded player below:


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Another lackluster return from Mitch Trubisky leaves the Bears offense in a state of panic

Another lackluster return from Mitch Trubisky leaves the Bears offense in a state of panic

Given Sunday’s parallels to the Bears’ 2018 clunker against the Rams, the spotlight on QB Mitch Trubisky may have been even brighter against the Saints than it usually is – which is saying something. 

Four quarters, 250 yards and one blowout loss later, the only thing that’s changed is that the Bears no longer have the luxury of hiding another subpar performance from their franchise quarterback behind a monstrous, game-changing defense. Trubisky’s numbers against New Orleans look better on paper, but the eye test told a much different – or similar, technically – story. 

“It's hard to pinpoint it,” he said after the 36-25 loss. “Just frustrating, ugly. Couldn't swing momentum in our way – couldn't really get going. Just sputtered out. We've just got to find ways to stay on the field, especially after 3rd down and move the chains and get going."

“I want to go back, watch and see like progression-wise [how he did],” Matt Nagy added. “I know there's one there early in the game where we missed a corner route on 3rd down, and Mitch knows -- he knows that he can connect on that. We've connected on it a lot in practice.” 

That specific miss sums up much of what’s plagued Trubisky through his time in Chicago. On 3rd-and-6, with Taylor Gabriel finding separation on a 20-yard corner route, the QB rushes through his throwing motion and misses an easy first down. 

“I'm going to go back and watch it because that's one of my favorite throws,” Trubisky said. “And I hit that every single time this week in practice, so why it didn't translate to the game is really frustrating for me. I felt like that's an easy throw that I make easily, and I just wasn't on the same page and didn't put it in the spot to give my guy a chance.” 

Another miss – this time overthrowing Anthony Miller on a seam route – provided a great example of the communication issues that have plagued the passing game. Miller had a step on two defenders, but according to Nagy and Trubisky, cut in on the route when the play directed that he cut out. 

“That's one of Anthony's really good routes that he runs,” Trubisky said. “And he separates and gets open, and I just felt like I had to get the ball out within that time because they created pressure up front. Someone slipped through, and from what I can remember, he just went inside, so I tried to throw a tight seam and give him a chance. But I was on the ground after that, so I'm going to have to go back on the film and watch it and correct it.” 

“Those are plays that you look at and you just -- you'd like to convert on those and connect.,” added Nagy.

The coach also conceded that Trubisky looked rusty on some throws, but was quick to credit the quarterback for making others (he didn’t specify which). Still, silver linings were little consolation to the Bears on Sunday night, and will continue to mean less and less as the season goes on. For being a team that supposedly has great weeks of practice, plenty of questions remain about where all that goes on Sundays. 

“Why it's not translating, I don't have a theory,” Trubisky added. “All I know is, go back to work and make sure that you put in all that work during the week to make sure it translates.”

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